The City - a resume
Shanghai is one of the world's great cities, with a colourful past, a frenetic present and a future that will see it eventually back on top of the world as a major international financial and trading centre.
The city, whose name literally means "on the sea", is located on the East China coast just to the south of the mouth of the Yangtze River. For the record, the coordinates are 31 degrees north, 121 degrees east, putting on the same latititudinal area as Cairo, Basra, Lahore, Lhasa and Jacksonville, Florida. Shanghai, like the rest of China, is eight hours ahead of GMT. The entire administrative area of the city, including surrounding suburbs, townships and farmland, covers a total area of 2,383 square miles (6,185 square km).
The total population is around 15 million, of which around eight million live in the city proper. There is a huge floating population of itinerant workers, probably numbering two million. The foreign population probably numbers around 70,000, but that's a complete guess (for comparison, the foreign population in pre-1949 Shanghai probably peaked at around 150,000).
The city has a status equivalent to a province, and reports directly to the central government. It has Jiangsu province to the north and Zhejiang to the south, and includes the third largest island in Greater China - Chongming Island.
Shanghai is China's largest city, its largest port and its largest industrial base. It has the best shops and restaurants in the country and the most fashionable people.It is called "the dragon head" of East China, the leading force driving the economy forward.
Shanghai was the first China coast port to be opened to Western trade in 1843, and in the 1920s and 1930s it was one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities. Since the early 1990s, a dramatic re-building programme began which is changing the face of the central areas, which until 1990 were almost identical to their appearance 40 years before.
Shanghai has the most highly skilled workers in China, and good transportation and communications links. It is noted for its production of textiles and other consumer products, although many factories are now being and shifted out to the outskirts of the city, or to inland areas. Service and financial industries are of increasing importance. It is also one of China's top centres of learning, and has many universities and institutes, including Fudan and Jiaotong universities.
Shanghai has its own distinctive dialect of the Chinese language, as different from Mandarin as is Cantonese. As a wise man once said: a language is a dialect with an army and a navy. Modern Shanghainese is much faster and harsher than that of old, and includes an increasing number of Mandarin words.
The city is the financial centre of China, and hopes one day to match Hong Kong in terms of the strength and international-ness of its financial markets. It has the largest stock market in the country and is home to a number of other currency and commodity markets. In 1993, with the support of the central government, Shanghai established the Pudong Development Zone to the east of the city centre, and is developing the area as a financial centre, a high-tech development park, an export processing and as a free trade zone.
Shanghai has a sense of its own importance, potential and destiny that other parts of China lack. The reason: it has been there before.